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  • STICKING TOGETHER: THE GLUE

    ROLE AND GROUP CREATIVITY

    Alexander R. Bolinger, Bryan L. Bonner

    and Gerardo A. Okhuysen

    ABSTRACT

    In this paper, we introduce the concept of the ‘‘glue role’’ in groups engaged in creative tasks. An individual crafts a glue role by seeking out and taking on otherwise neglected tasks that have the potential to facilitate a creative group’s performance. We adopt a negotiated order perspective on roles in groups to examine how a group’s emerging social structure provides opportunities for crafting the glue role. We then suggest two mechanisms through which the glue role can facilitate performance in creative groups: the coordination of group members’ contributions and the management of group conflict.

    In a pharmaceutical research and development group, a technical analyst offers to help

    with an obscure statistical methodology that facilitates a breakthrough drug production

    process. This individual works vigorously with the scientists to interpret and write up the

    results, but is only mentioned in a small footnote when the group’s lead scientists pitch

    the innovation to the company’s top management.

    An academic committee has a member who customarily takes assiduous notes at each

    meeting. At first, the other members of the committee think that this person is a little

    obsessive. However, as the time comes for the committee to begin to put together its final

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    Creativity in Groups

    Research on Managing Groups and Teams, Volume 12, 265–287

    Copyright r 2009 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited

    All rights of reproduction in any form reserved

    ISSN: 1534-0856/doi:10.1108/S1534-0856(2009)0000012013

    265

  • report, the other members of the committee find themselves going to this note-taker for

    specific details that they can use in their report that no one else can remember. The

    committee successfully completes and delivers its report to institutional stakeholders.

    Collaborative creativity in work groups is increasingly acknowledged as a critical element to the success of organizations in a rapidly changing world (Paulus & Nijstad, 2003). However, the success of groups engaged in creative endeavors hinges, in part, on their ability to manage the paradoxes and dilemmas that often accompany group interactions (Smith & Berg, 1987). A situation that leads to a dilemma frequently associated with working in creative groups is that group members may be selected primarily for their expertise in functional areas or for the specialized skills that they can contribute to the group rather than their knowledge and skill in enacting teamwork (Marks, Sabella, Burke, & Zaccaro, 2002). The creative group, then, is positioned on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, creative task performance is thought to benefit from selecting talented group members with a diverse set of skills and abilities (Milliken, Bartel, & Kurtzberg, 2003). On the other hand, even the most talented collection of group members requires effective means of coordinating individual efforts to ensure that the group works together in pursuit of its goals (Van de Ven, Delbecq, & Koenig, 1976). To the extent that group members focus on individual pursuits to the exclusion of teamwork, group members may encounter difficulties in working as an interdependent entity (Ellis, Bell, Ployhart, Hollenbeck, & Ilgen, 2005; Hollenbeck, DeRue, & Guzzo, 2004).

    In this paper, we seek to identify and better understand the phenomenon of the glue role in small groups engaged in creative tasks. An individual enacts a glue role by seeking out and taking on otherwise neglected tasks that have the potential to facilitate group effectiveness, but which often do not receive much recognition or attention. The glue role is contextually defined, driven by individuals’ ability to adapt their behaviors to meet the needs of the group. Individuals are able to craft the glue role through their ongoing ability to recognize ‘‘windows of opportunity’’ (Tyre & Orlikowski, 1994) for adopting otherwise neglected tasks with the potential to facilitate the integration and coordination of group members’ efforts. We suggest that this ability to take on neglected tasks that integrate group members’ contributions can facilitate a creative group’s performance by enabling better group coordination and by cultivating intragroup relationships built on trust that can facilitate the management of group conflict.

    We seek to contribute to theory and research on group creativity by examining the glue role as a mechanism through which collective forms of creativity are accomplished in groups. We begin by introducing and defining

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    ALEXANDER R. BOLINGER ET AL.266

  • the concept of the glue role as an example of how individuals can enact specific roles to influence group performance (Stewart, Fulmer, & Barrick, 2005). Drawing on the negotiated order of roles perspective (Bechky, 2006; Strauss, 1978), we then provide a theoretical account of how individuals craft the glue role in response to a group’s emerging social structures. Levine and Moreland (1990) point out how researchers know relatively little about the ways in which individual roles form in groups and this paper begins to examine that question. Finally, we discuss the ways in which the glue role may facilitate coordination and conflict management in groups.

    GROUP CREATIVITY AND THE INDIVIDUAL

    We define group creativity as a collective process whereby the diverse skills, knowledge, and perceptions of group members are coordinated to produce a product or performance that is both novel and appropriate for its intended purposes. Our definition can be unpacked into two key components. First, we view group creativity as a collective process (Sawyer, 2003), which requires the coordination of members’ diverse abilities and perceptions to facilitate group effectiveness (Taggar, 2002). We follow Hargadon and Bechky (2006) in suggesting that much of a collective’s creative activity occurs in the interactions of individuals with diverse perspectives and frames of reference. A creative group can enable individuals with diverse perspectives to come together and to interact, but it also requires means of integrating those efforts to be successful (Van de Ven et al., 1976). Second, we draw on Amabile’s (1996) definition of creativity as producing a product or performance that is both novel and appropriate to the purposes for which it is intended.

    Although researchers have pointed out that a good deal of creative activity is now accomplished in AU :1groups (Sutton & Hargadon, 1996; Sawyer, 2003), creativity is still popularly viewed largely as an individual phenomenon (Paulus & Nijstad, 2003). Recognition for great innovations often accrues to individuals like Thomas Edison, even though ‘‘Edison [was] in reality a collective noun and refers to the work of many men’’ (Conot, 1979, p. 469). This suggests that individuals who are able to take on visible, prominent group roles have the potential to receive individual recognition for some of the creative achievements of the group.

    In the context of group creativity, individual group members’ desire for individual recognition can play out in ways that have material consequences for group effectiveness. The desire of group members to seek visible,

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    Sticking Together: The Glue Role and Group Creativity 267

  • prominent group roles in which they will be personally recognized for their individual performance may conflict with their willingness to take on whatever role is necessary to integrate and coordinate group members’ efforts. Without individuals willing to take on a variety of roles that perform different functions, groups struggle to function optimally (Overbeck, Correll, & Park, 2005). Group members who are seeking to advance their careers may not view performing behind-the-scenes, low- visibility tasks that facilitate group coordination as being in their best personal interests.

    The failure of the heavily favored 2004 US men’s Olympic basketball team to capture the gold medal represents a classic example of the perils of not having an individual able and willing to integrate the contributions of others to facilitate the performance of the group. This team consisted of some of the best individual basketball talent in the world, including former National Basketball Association Most Valuable Players Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson and emerging stars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Unfortunately, team members were selected for their ability to shoot the basketball and score points rather than their willingness to play defense or pass the ball to open teammates (Wise, 2004). The results were very disappointing: in its first game, the heavily favored US team lost to Puerto Rico by 22 points. Kerr said that in basketball, ‘‘scoring basketsy [is] more readily observable than feeding [passing the ball to] open teammates’’ (p. 780). However, without a tea

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